Welcome to today’s edition of “Top Shelf Prospects” – a team-by-team look at the top prospects in the NHL. Today we complete our alphabetical journey with the 30th and final NHL team to be reviewed, the Winnipeg Jets.
As always you can find a complete listing of my previous articles here. Since we had an extensive NHL Draft preview, I will not be reviewing the players who were drafted in the 2012 draft, as there have been no games since then, and my reports on them will not have changed. What I will be doing is linking you to those articles, as well as taking a look at prospects that were acquired before this year’s draft; their progress, and their chances of making the 2012-13 roster of the NHL team in question. I will also bring you one sleeper pick – a player who was either drafted in the 4th-round or later, or was an undrafted free agent signing who I pick as my darkhorse to make the NHL. For those wondering, the cut-off for what is or isn’t a prospect is typically about 45-50 NHL games played or being 25 years old. These are not static rules though, as I may make some exceptions depending on the circumstances.
Top Prospect: Mark Scheifele, Center
Born Mar 15 1993 — Kitchener, ONT
Height 6.03 — Weight 184 — Shoots Right
Selected by the Winnipeg Jets in round 1 #7 overall, at the 2011 NHL Entry Draft
Mark Scheifele was a surprise selection by the Jets at 7th overall in the 2011 Draft. As the first player drafted after the team announced their return to Winnipeg, and having such a high draft position, the pressure on Scheifele going forward will be immense. Scheifele came to training camp last year looking to justify his selection, and had an excellent pre-season. He even made the Jets team playing in 7 regular season games. Unfortunately he wasn’t quite ready for the increased speed of regular season hockey, and after 7 games and just 1 goal, he was sent back to the Barrie Colts and the OHL. Scheifele had a nice season in Barrie despite dealing with some injury issues. He also missed some regular season games to play for Team Canada at the World Junior Tournament where he was a point per game player and helped the team win a Bronze Medal. Scheifele would finish the year playing in the AHL playoffs for the St. John’s Ice Caps, but again seemed overwhelmed by the speed of the pro game. This is not that unusual though for an 18 year old rookie, and it is not even really something that Jets fans should be overly concerned about.
Finding a big, talented, offensive centre has become extremely difficult in the NHL. Having skill and strength up the middle has always been a key to creating a Stanley Cup Contender. Scheifele has the potential to be that type of player. He combines excellent size, long reach, soft hands, and quick stickhandling to protect the puck and buy time to make plays. Scheifele has great vision, and tremendous passing ability. He quite simply is the type of pivot who makes his linemates better. Scheifele is a good shooter, who has an accurate wrister with a very good release. He could stand to add some power to his shot, and he could stand to shoot more often as well, as he always seems to want to be the playmaker. A little more selfishness would actually help his game.
Scheifele’s skating is a major strength in his game. He has shown improved speed and acceleration this season, and would now be classified as good in both areas. His biggest strength though is his excellent balance, and powerful stride. This allows Scheifele to protect the puck in the cycle game, and drive the puck through traffic and to the front of the net.
Scheifele is a willing backchecker who understands defensive concepts, and has solid positioning in his own end. He is involved physically and in puck battles, but he needs to add more upper body strength to be truly effective in this area. He has shown a willingness to sacrifice though, to block shots and to put his body on the line to win games.
Overall Scheifele is an outstanding prospect. Given his performance in camp and preseason last year, expectations are high that he will make the Jets this year. However given his performance in the AHL playoffs, or lack thereof, I’m not 100% convinced that he is ready for a full NHL season. I’d peg his chances to make the team at about 50/50, with another season in Barrie, and playing for Canada’s World Junior team again, a big possibility.
Top Prospect #2; Patrice Cormier, Centre
Born Jun 14 1990 — Moncton, NB
Height 6.02 — Weight 205 — Shoots L
Selected by the New Jersey Devils in round 2, #54 overall at the 2008 NHL Entry Draft
Traded to the Atlanta Thrashers in February 2010.
Patrice Cormier was finally able to see some significant ice time this past season after two years of limited action. In 2009-2010 Cormier’s elbow on Mikael Tam led to a suspension for the remainder of the QMJHL season. In 2010-11 a broken foot and a concussion limited Cormier to just 32 games (split between the AHL and NHL). This season, Cormier was able to play a total of 77 games between the AHL Regular Season, Playoffs, and brief callups to the NHL and his development was really helped as a result.
Cormier is a decent skater with good top end speed, balance and agility. However he needs some work on his first step and his acceleration. His offensive game is defined as very straightforward. He is a good forechecker who is often first on the puck, and pressures defencemen into making mistakes. However, he doesn’t seem to have the offensive tools to be a top 6 player. His shot is accurate, but his release is average at best, and the time he takes to “load up” his shot allows goalies the time to prepare for it. His vision and playmaking skills are also average.
Cormier’s future lies in playing a defensive role. He is good on faceoffs at the AHL level, and with continued work in the circle should be able to develop this skill at the NHL level. He is a gritty, agitating player who gets under an opponents skin and plays a pests game. He is involved physically both during the play and after the whistle. Cormier’s defensive positioning is very good and he is a willing shot blocker. The area he must improve is maintaining discipline. Cormier must play the game on the edge without crossing it in order to be an asset to his team.
I expect Cormier to spend another season shifting between the AHL and NHL, before finally cracking the big club for good. Due to the icetime he has missed over those two seasons, he is still playing catchup instead of being where he should be at this age.
Sleeper Prospect: Paul Postma, Defence
Born Feb 22 1989 — Red Deer, ALTA
Height 6.03 — Weight 195 — Shoots Right
Selected by the Atlanta Thrashers in round 7 #205 overall at the 2007 NHL Entry Draft
Paul Postma has always possessed the offensive tools necessary to be an NHL defenceman. He would make an excellent powerplay trigger man as he has an absolute bomb of a slap shot and an excellent one-timer that has tortured AHL goalies over the last three seasons. Postma also has decent puck handling and puck protection skills, and is a decent enough passer from the blue line. His skating has improved from his WHL days, and he would be seen as having good top end speed, and acceleration today. His agility and quickness allow him to walk the line and open up shooting lanes for himself. He also is able to join the rush, often looking to unleash a quick and accurate wrister, or his big slap shot as the trailer on the play.
Defensively Postma still has much to prove. He has certainly curbed his style, but is still far too much of a riverboat gambler in his own zone, leaving his man open in an attempt to make a big play and start the transition game. He also could stand to add some major upper body strength this year, as bigger AHL forwards regularly push him around in the corners and in front of the net. He tries, but is simply incapable of dealing with power forward type players right now. He has certainly improved his positioning and shot blocking ability, so equal dedication to the gym this offseason could lead to some big improvements for Postma.
The time has come for Postma to prove whether or not he is capable of being a full time NHLer. The offence is certainly there, but does he have enough defensive ability to play third pairing minutes at even strength? After 3 full AHL seasons Postma will be given every opportunity to take a job and run with it in Jets camp. With Zach Bogosian injured there is even an extra spot available on the Jets defence. Its now or never for Postma to prove whether he can be a full time NHL player for the Jets, or if he will be a journeyman AHLer.
The Jets have two top notch prospects in Scheifele and Jacob Trouba. However the depth behind those players is lacking. Cormier, Carl Klingberg, Spencer Machacek, are all decent prospects, but look more to be bottom 6 players than true top line threats. Ivan Telegin has shown offensive skill at the OHL level, but it remains a question if his game will translate to the AHL and levels, he’s a major boom or bust project. The remaining prospects seem to be middling depth players at this point. A big factor though in this lack of depth is the fact that the Jets/Thrashers franchise has graduated players like Evander Kane, Bryan Little, Ale-x Burmistrov, and Zach Bogosian to the NHL so quickly. They shouldn’t really be penalized for having a number of very good 1st round draft picks recently, picks who were able to have an NHL impact very quickly. The new Winnipeg Jets are well along in their rebuild, and as their young core improves together they can grow into a solid squad. They look to be especially strong on the blueline going forward, and the next job will be time to add more punch to the offence, and determine if Ondrej Pavelec can carry the team in goal. The Jets are building a squad that will keep the energy and decibel levels up in the MTS Centre for years to come.
Now that we have finished our look at all 30 teams, stay tuned as I rank the systems from 1-30, and the various prospects reviewed from 1-50 over the coming days.
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